29 September 2007

Namdaemun + Myeongdong

If you only have a couple of days in Seoul, and are in need of souvenirs, I recommend that you start off with the outdoor marketplace in Namdaemun. You can find just about everything at Namdaemun: Korean made, foreign "inspired" clothing, accessories, and bags; shoes; various household items; leather goods; blankets; kitchen utensils; Korean soccer paraphernalia, souvenirs with a traditional Korean flair; and various Korean street food, including marinated pig's feet. There's definitely an abundance of pig's feet.

With the number of foreign visitors that frequent Namdaemun, many of the vendors speak a few phrases of Japanese and/or English. It's an open market, so you're welcome to bargain. Cyndi and I are getting slightly better at bargaining, but our triumphs are quite small. It's very difficult to haggle over a few thousand won with someone that could be your grandmother.

I tried to chronicle the experience through photos, but the shop keepers can get quite irate when you take photos. What's the big deal? I mean, it's not like they're selling any illegally produced merchandise that violate international trademark laws. Right?

Here's a sampling of items you can find at Nadaemun:

Piles of ajumma clothes for approx $5 or less.

Various seafood (and soju) prepared upon order. I bet the block of ice was mandated under Korean health code regulations.

Korean utensils. After some smooth bargaining, Cyndi purchased a set of extremely lightweight chopsticks for 4000 won, but then found a vendor a few rows down that was selling the same set for 3000 won! Traditional Korean chopsticks, made of stainless steel, are thin and flat, but can be quite heavy and difficult to grip. Now days, people have started to use a more lightweight version that appears to be made of aluminum. I'm don't know much about the technological advances behind these chopsticks, but once I find out their story, I'll feature these chopsticks in their very own post.

Korean body scrubbers and crocheted little thingies. I've noticed that Korean women (at least Cyndi's aunts) use these crocheted doilies to clean their pots. That's a novel idea. I always thought they were potholders or used to showcase dusty, ceramic figurines and collectables.

Von Dutch, A&F, Nike, CK, etc... This place has everything your trendy little head could desire.

Various beans and vegetables? I don' know what that gelatinous brown thing is, but I am intrigued.

Leather and fur coats. That coat on the right was made out of 101 puppies.
Just kidding. It's obviously made out of baby cheetahs.

Korean souvenirs.

Wallets. I am told that there are different quality levels of imitation luxury goods. I've heard that the really high quality knock-offs are usually sold underground. I don't know about the grade level of the goods sold in Namdaemun. The branding and logos appear to be correct (so your wallet will say "Chanel", instead of "Channel"), but I'm sure that the handiwork leaves something to be desired.

Another great thing about Namdaemun is that its a stone's throw away from Myeongdong, another trendy shopping district. Myeongdong offers a nice contrast to Namedaemun because its filled with lots of modern boutiques and eateries, as well as outdoor vendors. Be warned though, Myeongdong can be quite chaotic during peak shopping hours (evenings, weekends, and holidays). Brace yourself for lots of pushing and personal space violations.

While in Myeongdong, I got to show Cyndi a variation of one of my favorite street snacks, 호떡ho dduk. As you may recall from my Edae post, ho dduk are typically deep fried. However, I prefer the Chinese style or "diet" version, where the cakes are grilled in a waffle iron-like apparatus, rather than deep fried. The end result is similar to naan or flat bread, filled with a warm sugary paste.

I always thought ho dduks were filled with cinnamon sugar and peanuts, but according to the sign on the truck, the filling consist of eight special ingredients, including ginseng. How can this be? There is ginseng in my beloved ho dukk?

In Myeongdong, you can also help yourself to a towering serving of fro-yo for approximately $1US. This place boasts a cone that is 32 cm high, but we found a place a few blocks that offers a 33 cm high. Oh yeah. Competitive market in action!

My sister told me that the voodoo doll key chains are currently all the rage in the States. Pshaw. Those voodoo key chains were soooo last year. The U.S. may ignite the trends in plastic surgery, panty-flashing celebrities, and reality TV, but the cute trends all start in Asia. There's a whole lot of cuteness going on over here, but if I had to predict the next cute trend to head to the States, I would put my money on these guys: Big, button eyed, creatures of whimsy.
What do you think?

Cyndi ordered some chicken curry for lunch. We were shocked when they brought out an entire deep fried chicken!

On our way to Starbucks, we spotted this cool Converse "Self Factory" truck. These mobile artists give new life to your old, beaten up sneakers with the help of a little color and sparkle. I'm not certain if Converse is affiliated with this endeavor (even though the name is on the truck). If not, they should totally jump back on this concept of the personalized sneaker. Have you seen such a service in the States?

26 September 2007

요리를 합니다. Cooking it up in Busan.

Cyndi and I went over to her aunt's (작은 고모) house to help prepare food for Chuseok. I was very pleased to find out that we were going to help her aunt prepare one of my favorite types of cuisine -- fried food. Ohhhhh yeah!

First, we fried some tofu and imitation crab.

Then, we fried some fish jun; fillets covered in flour, then egg, and fried to golden perfection.

Our master fry cook and co-teacher was Cyndi's cousin, Yeong Jin.

Afterwards, we fried up some 동그랑땡, frozen mini patties of pork, tofu, veggies, and chicken. (Dredge the patties in flour, cover in egg, then fry it up!)

After we fried up the tofu, fish fillets, and patties, it was time to cook the smelliest of them all -- fresh fish.

As those smelly fish fried, we prepared the shrimp tempura (튀김). First, we dipped the (peeled) shrimp in the tempura batter. Then, we rolled the shrimp in bread crumbs. Finally, we dropped those babies in some hot corn oil. (Fry the shrimps twice for a nice golden brown color). A tip for all you novice cooks: Be sure to blot all the excess water from your shrimp before deep frying them.

After all the frying was said and done, we were able to take a break and sample some of the Chuseok songpyun, rice cakes filled with some sort of peanut paste. We tasted both regular- sized songpyun and 왕 (king-sized) songpyun. The king-sized songpyun was filled with a yellow bean paste.

I learned that traditionally, women celebrate Chuseok with their husbands' family, and the wife of the eldest son prepares the Chuseok table. That's why Cyndi's aunt was cooking up a storm. In addition to all of the fried food, Cyndi's aunt prepared a multitude of other dishes, including a special soup, seasoned beef, and various side dishes. Unfortunately, we were not able to partake in the feast the following day, because we were scheduled to return to Seoul that afternoon. Cyndi's aunt did pack us a bento, and if I do say so myself, it was all quite tasty.

I will conclude with a photo of Henney''s cousin, Shuna.
"추석이야? 슈나의밥은어디야!?!"

24 September 2007

추석 Korean Thanksgiving (Harvest Moon Festival)

On our belated train ride to Busan aboard the KTX, I came across a delightful article on Chuseok. Originally written in Korean, but translated into English by I&T Service, the article was both informative, and awkwardly wordy. Here are some of my favorite facts and excerpts:

  • As I noted in my previous post, Chuseok is one of the biggest holidays of the year; a time when family members gather in
    "one place to tribute ancestral rites as well as paying a visit to ancerstors' graves, sharing the warm affectionate feelings for the family bond."
    Chuseok falls on the day of the brightest full moon of the year, the 15th of August, according to the lunar calendar. Koreans were very grateful to the moon for bringing light to the dark night, when humans were vulnerable to attacks by wild animals and shady humans (The sun, notably, is still taken for granted, and not recognized with its own national holiday).

  • On the morning of Chuseok, the ancestral rites table is prepared, including songpyun, korean rice cakes. As the article describes,
    "After confessing abstinence from prohibited activities, all family members gather around the table for the partake of sacrificial food and drink, and breakfast begins."
    The rice cakes, songpyun, are traditionally prepared the evening before Chuseok. There's a saying that the prettiness of your rice cakes will determine the attractivness of your spouse. That's such an ingenious ploy! Can you imagine the number of boys and girls, diligently preparing the rice cakes in hopes of finding a spouse that looks like Gong Yoo or Hyori? I'm sure the ancestors are patting themselves on the back for that old wive's tale.

  • Following breakfast, families visit the graves of their ancestors. Traditionally, in August, people cut the grass on graves (this is when folks used to be buried under huge, grassy mounds in the countryside). Consequently,
    "Those graves with uncut grass mean having no descendants, or, even if there are descendants, they lack filial piety and become the subject of mockery."
    Ah, the good ol' days -- when people were mocked for the lack of filial piety.

  • In addition to the ancestral rites, Chuseok festivities celebrate the abundance of the harvest. People celebrate through food, games, songs, and dance. The traditional games include a form of Korean wrestling called ssireum.
    "People thinking they are strong enter Ssireum contest. Surrounded by spectators, they test their strength and sagacity on a grass lawn or the sands. The final winner is called 'jangsa' and receives both cotton cloth, a sack of rice, or a calf as the prize."
    I wonder if they still do this in the country, and what sort of prizes are awarded. Do strapping young men, who "think they are strong" enter the contest, hoping to win a calf, and end up winning an iRiver mp3 player instead?

  • The article goes on to note that
    "Country boys used to make a group raid on a soybean field mischievously. It is a delicacy to eat the beans cut by the stalk after roasting in an open fire fueled by wood."
    Ah, the good ol' days -- when raiding soybean stalks was a young boy's idea of mischief.

  • Another important part of the Chuseok tradition is the rice wine, called Baekju (white wine) or Shindoju ("new wine of vigor"). Apparently,
    "When a few guests are knocked down from drinking excessively, the feast is regarded successful. Thus, wines are absolutely necessary to cater the guests."
    Now you can add Chuseok, along with St. Patrick's Day, to your list of reasons for excessive late night "festivities."

  • Chuseok is often compared to American Thanksgiving, a holiday which began when
    "[Europeans], who settled after a long journey of hardship, wished to express their thanksgiving to God. They ate turkey meat, corn bread, potato, pumpkin pie, etc. Following this tradition, Americans eat turkey during the holidays, causing the sacrifice of over 45 million turkeys all over the USA."
    That last statement was a little judgemental, but I suppose that's how a lot of foreigners view our excessive consumption of those big, ugly birds. Some countries slaughter millions of rice grains; Americans slaughter millions of turkeys. It's the thought that counts, right?

  • I will conclude this lesson on Chuseok with a insightful analysis of the significance of Chuseok:
    "Here is the reason why so many people visit their hometown, disregarding the dreadful traffic jam. It seems that this mentality stems from the customs of the agricultural society of the past and the influence of the Confuscianism culture, which became the foundation for the ancestor worship... Although industrialized society brought about the scattering of the family, Chuseok provides the chance for their reunion. It functions as the center of affirming the cooperation and reconciliation among the family members... Chuseok becomes an intermediary to connect the affectionate feelings of people, who are being forgotten in our daily life."
    Wow. First "sagacity", then "intermediary." This I&T Service does not fool around.

Chuseok is a big deal here. In a working culture, where employees clock in at 8 am and stay until 10 pm, a three day national holiday is not easy to come by. I'm not sure when gifts entered the picture, but Chuseok is also a time for gift giving, similar to the Hallmark version of Christmas in America. I'm not sure about the details, but it seems that folks present their relatives, particularly their parents with gift sets or gift certificates, and employers present their employees with a gift or bonus. I, for example, received a beautiful (and expensive) set of 유통기한 (manju), chestnut filled rice cakes, from my school.

Chuseok is a time to pay reverence to ancestors and appreciate the abundance of the year, so it is especially nice for me to celebrate and learn more about this holiday, right here in the Motherland.

source: Yi, Mee S., ed. "Chuseok." KTX Magazine for Travel Culture & Lifestyle. Sept 2007.

Traveling to Busan

Cyndi and I are back in Busan (southern part of Korea) visiting Cyndi's paternal relatives for the Chuseok holiday. During Chuseok, family members gather together to pay tribute to their ancestors, and more historically, celebrate the fullest moon of the year.

Chuseok is reportedly the worst time to travel, as most Seoulites head down south to visit their families. We experienced the chaos first hand. In fact, we almost didn't even make it to Busan.

There are several ways to travel to Busan: car, bus, plane, or KTX, an express train. Weighing price, convenience, and price, the KTX proved to be the most desirable option. With the help of Hyeyoung, we managed to procure tickets well in advance. As you can imagine, tickets are in high demand at this time of the year.

Our train was scheduled to depart Seoul Station at 6 pm. Seoul Station is quite aways (is that the right expression?) from Bundang, so we took the subway to Kangnam, where we then, caught a ride with Hyeyoung's cool friend, EK. Unfortunately, we encountered a whole lot of traffic. The minutes quickly ticked by as EK valiantly weaved through crazy taxis and buses. We arrived in the vicinity of Seoul Station around 5:45 pm. But as our luck would have it, the normal u-turn lanes were blocked off, so what would normally take a couple of minutes took nearly ten minutes. I think we may have passed Seoul Station a couple of times, but given the traffic and the crazy Korean road system, it was impossible to get to the station without having to run, frogger-style, through what seemed like ten lanes of traffic.

By some miracle, we managed to make it to Seoul Station a few minutes before 6:00 pm. That's when Cyndi, Hyeyoung, and I had to book it! We ran up several flights of stairs, laden with our baggage and various pieces of Hyeyoung & Joon's wedding hanboks. The station was swarming with people, but Hyeyoung managed to quickly read the board and figure out that our train was at Platform 4. We ran like madwomen to platform 4, and almost cried when we saw the crowd of people waiting for the train. After a few seconds of relief, we realized that this was too good to be true. It was several minutes past the scheduled departure time. Hyeyoung inquired with the train attendant, and learned that our train was scheduled for Platform 3. WTF?

We ran up and down two flights of stairs to get to the next platform. Hyeyoung reached the bottom of the stairs just as our train came speeding past the platform! As my sister would say, it sucked monkey. The train was actually running a few mintues behind, but we had wasted those precious minutes at the wrong platform!

If you think we had it bad, you should have seen this Canadian dude. He and his friends were traveling to Busan together to see the sights. Unfortunately, the doors closed just as he was about to step onto the train. (I'm not sure if that's accurate, but that's what he told us). It was really sad to see this non-Korean guy, frozen in disbelief. As he dejectedly followed us on the escalator, he cried, "어떻게?" ("What am I going to do...?) With the help of HY and his big 외국인 eyes, he managed to get the last remaining seat on the next train. We, however, had to take an alternate route on two separate trains, including an older, smelly train that was filled with trash and empty beer cans from the previous passengers. I could handle the funky smell, but it took all that I had to ignore the trash. It just really grossed me out.

We left Seoul at 10 pm, and arrived in Busan around five hours later. Had we made our original train, the trip would have only taken two hours.

Since we had a few hours to kill until our new train schedule, EK kindly came back for us and took us to Itaewon for some tacos at Taco Chili Chili. The burritos only vaguely resemble Mexican food, but I suppose it's close enough if you're dying for a burrito. Afterwards, we walked around the corner to a cozy little cafe called T8, where I had a delicious bowl of "chocolate soup," a bowl of expresso and hot chocolate, so good that it was almost worth missing the train -- almost. I will post a photo once I get back home.

21 September 2007

결혼식: Two Weddings & (fortunately) No Funerals

Autumn and spring, I am told, are the most desirable seasons for a wedding. I learned this first hand last Saturday, when we attended two weddings! I remember watching the episode of Gilmore Girls where Lane Kim gets married. In that episode, Lane's Korean relatives attended the brief ceremony, then in a hit and run fashion, handed in their monetary gifts, grabbed some galbi, and quickly went home. At that time, I didn't understand the joke, because in my experience, weddings are usually an all day affair. But, now, I totally get the origins of that gag.

Unless you're a mega celebrity with all sorts of entertainers singing and dancing at your wedding, Korean weddings are a relatively quick affair. After the ceremony, guests head to the reception for some lunch or dinner, then briefly greet the bride and groom, and then... they go home. Yes, that means no dancing; no garter belt or bouquet throwing; and no tapping of champagne glasses, forcing the couples to kiss.

I have not conducted any research, but I suspect that the brevity of Korean weddings are due to the high demands for space, particularly in Seoul. Autumn and spring equals big bucks for wedding halls, so these venues need to usher in the parties as quickly and efficiently as possible, and capitalize on their earning potential. I may be over generalizing, but this what I've gathered so far.

Another interesting contrast to Western customs is that couples in Korea issue their wedding invitations a week or two in advance of the ceremony. That's how we wrangled the invitation to a second wedding. In America, many couples agonize over the design of the invitation, the number of people they can afford to invite, and who is seated next to whom. Invitation procedures seem much more casual in Korea.

Before I describe my wedding experiences, I'd like to first make clear that I am quite ignorant about wedding traditions in Korea. (If you'd like to learn more about traditional Korean weddings, this article looks interesting.) Most of what I'm about to describe is based on mere observation or what Hyeyoung has told me. I apologize in advance if either my video or narrative seems to be trivializing the ceremonies. That is not my intention at all. I am unfamiliar with all the customs and didn't understand most of what was said during the ceremony, so I'm just going to go ahead an interpret the ceremony, despite my ignorance. Okay? Let's begin!

The first wedding was held at Sung Kyung Kwan University in Daehagno. Over six hundred years old, this university for the natural and social sciences is built on historical grounds. Much of the traditional architecture is still in tact (though in dire need of renovation), which makes SKKU a popular spot for traditional weddings. We arrived at around 11 am to witness the nuptials of one of Cyndi's co-workers, a man that I know as Mr. Cute Devil (his words, not mine).

Upon arrival, we immediately headed towards a little tent where we turned in our white envelope containing a monetary gift for the bride and groom. This gift envelope entitled us to receive meal vouchers for the reception. I am told that some people hand in empty envelopes in exchange for a meal ticket. That is so terrible. You should at least stuff the envelope with some coupons. As it was a outdoor wedding, guests could choose to stand around or sit on the chairs.

A "traditional" wedding ceremony is symbolic of the gestures from the olden days, when weddings emphasized the joining of two families and involved several days of courtship and ceremony. Today, (or at least in the metropolitan areas) all of those customs are boiled down to under an hour. There were two gentlemen, garbed in mint green, who served as the officiant and MC of the wedding. Unfortunately, I could not understand most of what was said, so I can only tell you what appeared to be happening (with some extra notes from Hyeyoung).

First of all, the bride, escorted by four male attendants (employees of the venue), awaits in a little box. At the start of the ceremony, the bride (in her little box) is carried to a tent on the side, representing her family home. Then, the groom, carried on some sort of platform (arg! I can't think of the word), must follow the bride to her "home", symbolizing the tradition when the groom spent three days with the bride's family, after which, the bride must say goodbye to her family and forever live with her husband's family. Or, something like that. The groom is escorted by female relatives of both the bride and groom. Their affiliations are usually designated by a red or blue skirt, but in this particular wedding, all the relatives wore blue skirts. Unlike western weddings, none of the wedding party seemed to be maidens, or at least, they didn't look single.

After the little trek around the wedding grounds, the bride and groom are brought to the main tent, where the bride and groom are separated by a large table laden with all sorts of dduk (rice cakes) and fruit. The bride and groom are not supposed to make eye contact at this time. I'm not sure what the significance of the food spread is, but all I know is, if I had to stare at a table full of snacks for thirty minutes at my wedding, I'd expect to have the freedom to snack on the food throughout the ceremony.

Across the table of food, the bride and groom alternate in a series of elegant bows. As Hyeyoung noted, the bride is made to bow twice, while the groom bows only once, thereby exerting his superior status. Whatever. Following the bows, the bride and groom are each seated in front of a small table containing a gourd of wine. I read that the drinking of the wine symbolizes the unification of the bride and groom, but with my silly mind, I read the scene differently. I imagined that the the bride and groom were taking shots of soju in an effort to calm their nerves -- because that is the Korean way. My interpretation is way off base, but I'm sure that there are folks out there who wouldn't mind adopting such a custom. Right?

Following the booze, the couple are finally allowed to stand next to each other, though they still may not touch. Then, one of the men in green, launches into a lengthy lecture on love, marriage, family, loyalty, and respect -- or so I'm guessing. At some point during the speech, I think that the officiant pronounces them husband and wifey. Then the couple turns to the audience and bows. We all clap. Then... quickly bolt to the reception hall for the buffet!

Before I move on to the reception, some of you may be wondering what one wears to a Korean wedding. Fashion rules are quite lax. Most men wore suits or dress shirts, but the women came in a variety of outfits -- jeans and a blouse, semi-formal dress, or hanbok. As long as you maintain the golden rule of all weddings -- Don't outshine the bride -- you can pretty much wear whatever you want. Interestingly, whereas Americans like to wear light colors to a wedding, black is quite popular at Korean weddings. There was a non-Korean man who wore a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals, but I don't think he was an official guest. He didn't seem to know anyone, and whipped out a fancy camera to capture the ceremony. I think he was there capturing fodder for his blog, which is fine, but the least he could have done was dress a little nicer in respect of the bride and groom.

Back to the reception... Cyndi, Hyeyoung, and I immediately hustled over to the banquet room so that we could find a good seat. To my surprise, the banquet room was almost half full. It looked like some people couldn't wait to get their grub on. The buffet featured an array of foods including sushi, lasagna, sandwiches, Chinese stir fry, a variety of soups, salad bar, and various Korean dishes. I enjoyed the variety of food, though, as it is with most buffets, quality was sacrificed at the cost of quantity. Once one has had your fill, people do not linger. They give their brief congratulations to the newlyweds, then head home, or as in our case, head to the next wedding.

We looked at the time, and it was only about 12:30 pm! Our next wedding wasn't until 3:00 pm, so we decided to look around the Sung Kyung Kwan University campus. Like most Korean universities, SKKU is located on a mountain, which means lots of uphill walking! The campus is lush and green, filled with lots of glinko trees. On our way through campus, I noticed a lot of banners. Hyeyoung explained that friends or fellow club members often create banners for folks who did really well on a big examine. For example, the yellow banner heralds the successful test results of two campus couples. I think this custom is so sweet. How cool would it be to see a banner on your way to school that recognizes your awesome MCAT scores?

After our tour around SKKU, we boarded a bus to Yanjae for the second wedding. This western style ceremony was held in a wedding hall, a multi-storied facility solely dedicated to wedding ceremonies and reception. Typical of the hustle and bustle style that I'm learning to associated with Korea, wedding parties are scheduled back to back, with various parties flowing in and out of the wedding halls. When I entered the building it was quite chaotic. The lobby was filled with people from different wedding parties that it took us awhile to make certain that we were attending the right wedding.

We arrived a little early, so the groom informed us that the eating area was open, and that we could eat before the wedding if we were hungry. Eat before the wedding ceremony? I've never heard of such a thing! We were still a bit full from the buffet, but after some deliberation, we decided, why not? This time around, we were met with a sit down meal featuring expensive 갈비 찜 (short rib stew) and 갈비 탕 (ox short rib soup). It was very tasty! Unfortunately, once we started eating, we lost track of time. Fortunately, there was a large projection screen that allowed us to observe the wedding as we continued to stuff our faces. Once we were done eating, we caught a ride with one of Cyndi's co-workers to Kangam so that we could watch Bourne Ultimatum (which gets my two thumbs up). I felt a little odd about eating and running (even though I didn't really know the bride or groom), but I don't think anyone minded.

In America, wedding receptions are very group oriented. It's an opportunity for people to mingle, party, and collectively celebrate the nuptials of the bride and groom. Guests are an active participant in the wedding festivities. However, based on what I've observed (which may actually be atypical, for all I know), it seems that the wedding is primarily for the bride, groom, and their families. Guests are just incidental. Weddings are an opportunity to express your best wishes to the couple and an opportunity for a "free" meal.

We have a couple of more weddings coming up. Unlike the folks from the two weddings I just attended, I know the bride and/or groom a little better, so perhaps my understanding and perception of Korean weddings will evolve.

Check out the slide show for more photos. It's about five minutes long, so it will take a little longer than usual to load.

18 September 2007

Kid Nation

I'm enjoying Korean TV, particularly the dramas and variety shows, but I've found that the the reality shows here lack the same pizazz and production values of American reality TV. (Yes, I am actually defending the merits of reality TV). As exploitive as they can sometimes be, American producers really know how to edit story lines and heighten conflict and ensuing drama.

I just read about this new reality TV series on CBS, Kid Nation, where a group of forty children, with ages ranging from seven to fifteen, run their own little society in a dusty, abandoned town in New Mexico. The young townspeople, who all appear to be quite intelligent, have to grapple with creating a political, economical, and social structure, all on their own. This show sounds extremely fascinating. I hope to catch the episodes via CBS' innertube, but I can't seem to stream episodes on my Mac! Kid Nation premieres this Wednesday, Sept 19, 8 PM ET/PT. Let me know what you think.

Check out the awesome preview:

16 September 2007

머리를 했어요! (Haircut!)

I got a haircut!

Just kidding! That's just a wig that I borrowed from a mannequin in Shinchon.

You may recall, from the last time you saw us, that Cyndi was struggling to grow out her singed mullet, while I was just letting my multi-hued mane grow out like a wild beast. Well, we finally took care of our respective hair styles (or lack thereof).

This weekend we went to the trendy Lee Chul HairKerker (Yeah, I don't know what "Kerker" is either) in Chungdam (Apkujung). Cyndi had her hair done at Lee Chul last year and was really pleased with the results, so we decided to fork out the extra dough and check it out this time around.

Though the salon is quite pricey, you definitely get what you pay form in terms of service, ambiance, and styling. The staff is very friendly and attentive. We had our hair done by master stylist, and team leader Mr. Taek Kim . Though I was initially a little intimidated by his stoic demeanor, I was really impressed by his candor and understanding of my difficult hair.

Most people think I'm being silly when I say that my hair is difficult, but it is! Kim 팀장 totally understood my issues without me having to say anything. As he pointed out, my hair is quite thick and has a bit of a "wave" to it. Though I tried to contain the "wave" with a "magic perm" back in California, he commented that the perm made my hair look unnaturally straight. He also noted that if I were to cut my hair, the loss of weight would lead to, as I like to describe, an unbearable, puffy helmet of hair. Thus, he recommended a straight perm that would relax my hair, but also allow for a bit of a curl. I asked for the specific name of the perm, but he says that it goes by a number of names. This straight perm is the same treatment used in the States, and is supposed to be less damaging than the magic perm.

Oh! I forgot to mention the best part. Kim 팀장 lived and worked in Canada for a significant period of time, so he speaks English fluently. Now that I think about it, I haven't had a fluent English speaker do my hair in quite awhile, even back home in the States.

The bottom layers of Cyndi's hair were quite damaged, so he recommended that she cut it all off! Cyndi was reluctant, but like a soldier with gangrene, she knew what she had to do. Cyndi also has the same density and "wave" problem, so she also pama-ed it up!

For those of you blessed with beautiful, manageable hair that just falls into place when you roll out of bed, I thought I'd post a few photos to show you what some people go through to get lovely, white girl hair. :)

We wait and read magazines.

We get our hair chemically processed by apprentices.

We sit in front of strange heating apparatuses that, for all we know, may cause cancer.

We sit around, sipping black coffee, as unknown chemicals seep down the sides of our faces.

We sit around, looking like crazy homeless ladies, with straws and tissue in our hair.

We do all of this -- just so that we can enjoy four to five months of smooth, shiny hair.

Now, as they do in America's Next Top Model, it is time to reveal the before and after photos:



Doesn't she look like Snow White?



The photos aren't the most flattering shots, but I think that our hairstyles are an improvement. All in all, Cyndi and I are pleased with our new do's, and will likely return to Lee Chul when
we need a fix-up. Yes, it's a bit pricey, but it's still significantly less than what I paid at El Camino Salon.

Speaking of ANTM, I spotted A.J. from Cycle 7 of America's Next Top Model , shopping in Apkujung. Cycle 7 is just now airing in Korea, so it was interesting to see her in person..